Describe your inspiration for composing the piece.
Whenever I compose for acoustic instruments, I think the primary motivation for me is to dig into the essence of those instruments. How do their sounds feel? What are the physical properties of the instruments in question? I'm thinking of the way sounds resonate within the instruments, methods of sound production, timbres, etc. Dealing with multiple instruments, as I am here, I think of ways I can combine and contrast their sonic characters. In combination you can create wholly new meta-instruments.
What is the overall conception for the piece (for example, is it programmatic or abstract? Is there a specific formal structure, color, or musical device you employed?)
My conception here is not programmatic. The title actually has it all spelled out. The piece opens with this riff in the alto sax, and that's really the seed. The whole piece is a motivic composing-out of that simple bit of material. I think the motivic interconnectedness of the work gives it a clear formal structure, and I think that will come through with such great players handling it.
What are some of the goals you strove to accomplish in writing the work?
I can't say I had specific goals beyond doing good work. Of course, there are always sort of mundane "goals" with these commissions - "do x, y, and z," "have this done by then." But those are logistical goals, not musical. I would go back to my answer about inspiration. My goal is always to luxuriate in sound, and to surprise myself, hopefully in a good way.
What are some of the challenges you faced in writing the work?
Well, getting off the ground was a challenge. This has been such a hard year. I personally have dealt with some huge cancellations and lost opportunities, and I'm luckier than many. I have friends, as many of us do in this art, that have very literally lost everything since the pandemic shattered our arts economy. Going from a busy day-to-day life filled with challenges and stresses and deadlines to having nothing... was hard. For a long time through the late spring and summer I could hardly write. I tried to keep at it. When I started working on this piece it seemed like the well was dry. But I stuck it out and discovered that opening riff, that simple musical gesture, while improvising. It went from there, I'm glad to say.
What do you hope your audience will ultimately take away the most from hearing your work?
I hope that they enjoy it and/or be taken to some interesting thought-place. It's interesting - when I was composing this piece, I would share drafts with colleagues to get feedback, and they'd come back with visceral responses unlike anything I felt as the composer. That subjectivity relates to each person's perspective and circumstances. So I hope folks that hear this piece can relate to it in some way.
For you, as a composer, what has been the most beneficial and rewarding part of your collaborative process with Zen Duo?
With this being such a hard time, as I said, it was a true joy to break the drought and really get back to work in the summer. Working with great performers is an excellent motivator, and knowing that I had considerable skill and ability at my disposal, so to speak, really helped me unwind and find my groove when I was writing. My deepest thanks to Ben and Parker for taking this on. I'll always remember this one.